There is an estimated 48,000 people living in modern slavery in Libya (GSI 2018). Libya is a major transit destination for migrants and refugees hoping to reach Europe by sea. Human trafficking networks have prospered amid lawlessness, created by the warring militias that have been fighting for control of territories since the toppling of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Highly organized trafficking and migrants smuggling networks that reach into Libya from Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, and other sub-Saharan states subject migrants to forced labour and forced prostitution through fraudulent recruitment, confiscation of identity and travel documents, withholding or non-payment of wages, debt bondage, and verbal, physical, and sexual abuse. In some cases, migrants reportedly pay smuggling fees to reach Tripoli, but once they cross the Libyan border they are sometimes abandoned in southern cities or the desert where they are susceptible to severe forms of abuse and human trafficking.
Sami left Eritrea when he was 15 years old. He travelled to Ethiopia and from there he made it to Sudan. From Sudan, he was smuggled into Libya via Chad, after paying smugglers $1,500. On the Libyan border, he was caught and told by the Libyans he had been sold by the Chadian smugglers and needed to pay more money.
They asked me to pay $6,500 more to proceed further. We were lied to. They beat us with sticks and a water hose. And they electrocuted us. We told them we had no money, but that did not stop them from beating us.
My mother had to sell our home in Eritrea and other assets we had and was also forced to borrow money from family and friends abroad for my trip. They then took us to the town of the Libyan Bani Walid, where we were held in an illegal detention centre. They gave us one piece of bread a day.
We endured physical torture but the mental torture was worse. Our captors would systematically choose people unable to pay to set an example. They would hang them upside down and beat them. They would electrocute their nipples and waterboard them. They would pour hot oil on them and burn them. We saw people dying while being tortured. My friend died in front of me after he was electrocuted. He came with me and we survived the journey through the desert only for him to die as a slave in captivity. Watching others being tortured made people call anyone they could for them to send money by any means. They made us call while being tortured. The first time they tortured me they asked me to pay. I said I don't have the money, my father is dead and I only have my mother. They asked me if I had relatives in Europe, to which I said no. They were not pleased, so they hanged me upside down and beat me everywhere and electrocuted me. They called my mother while I was being tortured so she could hear my screams.
The detention centre had people from Eritream Somalia, Sudan and Ethiopia, as well as Nigeria and other West African countries. At night, it used to be worse. The guards would get high on drugs and resort to beating, abuse and torture. Women and children were kept separate from the men. Many girls and women were raped and had children as a result of it. Our buildings were close to each other so we would hear their screams and cries.
I stayed in detention for nine months. Once my mother secured the money, they let me go.
Upon my release, I boarded a truck with others on the way to the sea. We were stopped by another vehicle after armed men started shooting at our truck. Our Libyan driver escaped and the men asked us who we were and where we were going. They took us and said we had to pay for our freedom if we wanted to be allowed to go to the sea and travel to Europe. They asked us for money in exchange for freedom. When they inquired about my religion I lied to them that I was a Muslim, hoping they would treat me better. I was lucky because they asked me for less money, which I was able to secure eventually.
I spent two months there, in a town called Az Zawiya. We were held in an apartment building complex from where we were not allowed to go out. After paying the ransom, they took me from Az Zawiya to the sea. But we were stopped by Libyan coast guards, who took us to Tripoli.
In Tripoli, they demanded 1,000 euros ($1,225) in order for a person to be released. Then the coast guards sold us to an Eritrean smuggler who goes by the name Walid. He is notorious and runs a smuggling network with Libyans and others. His real name is Tawalde but the Libyans call him Walid. He is responsible for the torture and killing of many.
We were taken back to Bani Walid. They kept us in a large, container-like shed. It was really a cramped area with around 320 of us and had one toilet to share. I stayed there for three months. There were women and children in the same container as the men, children as young as two years, and there were infants born as a result of rape by the Libyan captors.
Walid was stingy with food. He would starve us and say we would receive food if we could transfer money. He would say "No money no food, you can die of hunger for all I care."
In order for us to leave we had to pay $2,200. I spent two months there. Most days we got either no food or one piece of bread so we were hungry all the time. The whole day and night we would just sleep and lie down without being allowed out and seeing daylight. The scariest thing was not knowing if you would ever be freed.
Towards the end of my captivity, a Libyan man came and took me to do farming work in return for food and shelter. After two days, I managed to escape and found shelter in a mosque. I just started cleaning there. Whenever someone would ask me who I was, I would say I was the cleaner and they would leave me alone.
There I found another Libyan man, who said he would help me get to Tripoli if I paid 750 Libyan dinar. I told him I had no money. So, instead, he took me to his home, where I had to work for two months before he took me to Tripoli as promised. This was in September 2017. When I arrived in Tripoli, I registered with UNHCR. I found a job as the caretaker of a mosque, where I can also sleep. This is where I am today. I clean the mosque and I close it at night. I help other Eritreans trapped in Tripoli by making them pasta and other simple food and they also stay with me overnight in the mosque. No one bothers us here and it's warm inside.
I left Eritrea in search of freedom and peace. I did not want to live under dictatorship, that is why I left. I knew before leaving Eritrea that the journey would be tough. But I had no idea people would be so cruel and inhumane. I never thought I would be sold and resold. Looking back now, had I known what was awaiting me, I probably would have stayed back in Eritrea despite the hardships there. But now I have no choice, I can't go back. My mother is in debt because of me. So, I must continue. I must help her now. She lost her home because of me. I must pay off her debt.
I want to study psychology to help people with mental illness. My mother suffered from it, and I want to help people like her.
It's OK if I die in the sea. It's better than the hell I saw in Libya and the hell awaiting me in Eritrea if I return. If I make it anywhere in Europe I might have a chance.
*Not their real name
Narrative provided by Al Jazeera